Panda-monium at Mogo Zoo
Back in 2012 I embarked on a trek along the Indo-Nepalese border to a place called Sandakphu. Sitting at 3636m it is the highest point in the state of West Bengal, India. But more than that, it lies in the shadow of Kanchenjunga, the world’s fourth highest mountain and offers once-in-a-lifetime views across to Everest, Makalu and Lotse. From this vantage point we could see into India, Nepal and Bhutan and in one panorama we had three of the world’s four highest mountains. The trek took four days through steep, forested mountains and deep valleys. It was tough, the high altitude adding to the exertion. But these forests of bamboo, rhododendron, oaks and conifers conceal a beautiful, elusive creature – the russet coloured red panda. Each day as I struggled with the steep inclines and the ever decreasing oxygen, I distracted myself searching the trees for a glimpse of the panda. Being shy, arboreal and mostly active from dusk to dawn, it would have been no small miracle if I did see one. I left empty handed.
Fast forward five years and I am finally getting up close and personal with these soft-toy like creatures. I have a an appointment at Mogo Zoo on the New South Wales south coast to meet their two cheeky red pandas. As part of their Animal Encounter program, Mogo Zoo offers the opportunity to sit with, pat and feed the red pandas in their enclosure.
Calling these delightful critters pandas is a little misleading – they are not related to the black and white giant pandas in anyway, belonging in the same family as the weasels, racoons and skunks. Found throughout the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, India, South West China, Laos, Myanmar, and Bhutan, like many other animals here, they are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as endangered with an estimated population at less than 10,000 individuals. Their population continues to decline due to habitat loss, poaching and in-breeding. Despite official protection the red-panda is still hunted for its fur and for trade on the black market as pets.
After meeting with the zoo-keeper, de-germing our hands and shoes with sanitiser, we are led into the panda enclosure. Something tells me these guys are quite used to this. They waddle up to us excitedly and follow us up the side of the enclosure to the wooden chairs and tables where we sit and wait for them to approach us. It takes all of 3 seconds before the pandas are up on our knees. I’d like to think they took an instant like to us but I think their attraction has more to do with the bowl of grapes, carrot, sweet potato and avocado the keeper has supplied us with. Despite sharp looking teeth and long curved claws, the pandas are surprisingly gentle as they take the food from our outstretched hands. The grapes are the most popular, but they also like the carrot and sweet potato, holding it in their claws as they munch.
Over the twenty or so minutes we have in the enclosure we also get to pat these delightful critters, their fur a little wiry, their cute little faces poking around looking for more food. All too soon our time is up and we say farewell to our new little friends as the scurry off back into the trees to feast further on their usual fare.
Mogo Zoo is located at Mogo on the New South Wales South Coast.
Open: 9am – 5pm 7 days a week (closed Christmas day)
Address: 222 Tomakin Road, Mogo,
Phone: (02) 4474-4930
Website: www.mogozoo.com.au – check for details on feeding times and keeper talks
Admissions (as of 2017):
Adults $32.00 Children $17.00 (3 to 15 years)
Family $92.00 (2 adults and 2 children) extra child $14.00
Senior card holders, Aged Pension, Disability Pension and Students $26.00
The Animal Encounter with the red pandas cost $100 per person – bookings essential.
The photos below are a hark back to the past – 2012 trekking along the Indo-Nepalese border, home to the beautiful red panda.